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let’s give our un-invited feedback to Adam Robinson

here are three potential cover takes for Adam Robinson’s forthcoming SAY POEM, scheduled to release in May from the new PGP imprint, Awesome Machine (or so it has been said). vote in the comments section for 1, 2, or 3. (photographs courtesy of  Stephanie Barber, info courtesy of the Publishing Genius Press blog.




34 thoughts on “let’s give our un-invited feedback to Adam Robinson

  1. I’d say the first one is the most suggestive, the most charged.

    And the second one has a vibrancy, a background, middle-ground, foreground dynamic that I also like. There are all kinds of intersecting lines, like the one caused by the woman’s hands, the white ones on the street, the ones on Adam’s jumpsuit, etc., all of which help this coalesce into a strong portrait.

      1. Yes, I agree, Paula (see below) suggest reversings the photo so that the back becomes the front and vice versa. I wonder what that would look like.

            1. I thought about releasing the mlp anthology FIRST YEAR with two different cover, mailing them randomly but was a bit daunted by the task. and THE DIFFICULT FARM has a new blue version right?

    1. I say #1, hands down (well, inasmuch as that’s possible from the small images). It’s the cleanest, and when you flip it over and see the back cover, there’s some real enticement (even if it is the typical “pretty woman” enticement—although one wonders what’s going on there, and any curiosity is good).

      #2 won’t scan, I think. The composition is arbitrary, and the title is buried in the image, lost at the bottom. It also looks kind of amateurish—I see a lot of small press books that look like this—which is something small presses should avoid (imo). Shouldn’t be taken when there’s a stronger choice like #1.

      #3 is OK but not really that thrilling.

      #1 is the most conventional, but sometimes that’s best to convince someone to pick up a book. It has more tension than #3.

      Of course I don’t know the book so. Best of luck to all involved.

        1. Sure, but keep in mind this is intended as constructive criticism. I’m not trying to put anyone down!

          My tendency is toward strong, striking covers. On the one hand I’m very sick of the previous, minimalist aesthetic that has seized the collective artists of our nation, but I still prefer that to anything too crowded, or lacking in clear composition.

          What’s strong, and what’s striking, can encompass a lot of things, but I see a lot of small press covers that look somewhat random—especially photographed covers that aren’t strong compositions. I think that’s a mistake. It becomes even more of a mistake when the photos aren’t reproduced well, or when the color levels haven’t been properly adjusted.

          I also see a lot of small press books with covers that have line drawing art, and the drawings aren’t always that strong. I think that if one is going to use a drawing, it should be a good drawing. Which can again be a lot of things, but shaky lines and a poor sense of composition look amateurish. What I like about #1 above is that it’s a good photo, and will divide nicely into two nice photos. (At least, as I picture it.) And it has tension. Tension is good; it makes me curious about the book. (I’d argue that #s 2 and 3, while nice in their own ways, don’t create any tension.)

          Basically, if there’s a photo or a drawing, it should be a good photo or a good drawing. “Good” can mean many things, and it comes down to personal preferences to some extent, but I think that writers/publishers who don’t know as much about the visual arts should try to consult/work with the plethora of art and graphic design grads out there. (I teach at an arts college, and it’s easy to find students who have basic arts instruction—and who would probably be happy to do some work as interns.)

          Beyond that, moving inside to the text itself: laser printing, small margins, fonts that are too large or too small, nonstandard fonts, obvious typos, and unjustified text columns all make me lean toward putting the book down. Which is unfair on some level, of course, since money’s a factor (especially with laser printing). And I hate to be a book snob (books can certainly be over-designed, and ultimately it’s the writing that matters most). But I appreciate when the book has been “properly” printed and laid out. I used to be a layout editor, and you can tell pretty quickly when layout is considered, and when it’s haphazard.

          Print-on-demand used to be another thing that would make me lean toward not spending as much time with a book, but I that’s becoming less of an issue. Both because POD has gotten a lot better, and because a lot of significant small presses have gone POD.

          I think that small presses generally benefit from trying to be as professional as possible. Unless they have a good reason to do otherwise. But even there, I’d encourage publishers to look at a few vanity press books, then do everything they can to not make their books look like that.

          And of course if they have some striking original idea then it’s probably best to go in that direction, etc.

          And I’m sure I could find multiple exceptions to everything I’ve written above.

          Here are two good recent Dalkey covers:


          At FC2, I thought the cover of Lidia Yuknavitch’s REAL TO REEL was pretty good:

          Mutable Sound often has good design. I really like the cover and design of Gabe Boyer’s multi-novel collection A SURVEY OF MY FAILURES THIS FAR:

          What’s especially impressive about that one is that it’s like 1000 pages long, and well bound.

          (Disclaimer: MS is putting out one of my books. And I really hope it looks good!)

          Eugene Lim’s FOG & CAR looks pretty nice, and is a good example of a cover where burying the title works:
          …although I probably would have moved his name to the right-hand side.

          I thought the cover Derek White did for Blake Butler’s EVER is really strong:

          Of course other factors play a role. I think the cover for TORTOISE, taken all by itself, is only OK—but here’s the thing. When I read that book, I pictured the last chapter taking place in a landscape that looked like that. Which I thought helped the book overall. So I think that’s a pretty interesting cover/text interaction:

          …Well, for what it’s worth!

          Cheers, Adam

      1. You know, I think every Ellipsis book has had a striking cover. And the photo for Lim’s Fog & Car was taken by Lim himself.

        Lily Hoang’s Changing had a strong illustration on its cover.

        Light Boxes had one of last year’s best covers.

        One of the things I like about Dalkey’s covers is that they many (Most? All?) of them are drawn by the same artist, Nicholas Motte. There’s something about such a unitary approach that I find attractive.

        1. Agreed. The cover of Light Boxes is fantastic.

          “There’s something about such a unitary approach that I find attractive.”

          I think this is what I was trying to get at in my comment regarding establishing a “cover aesthetic,” though perhaps having a single artist might be a bit unilateral an approach for me. I understand the appeal, but I think I’d want a little more variety in scope.

          1. Yes, there’s a danger in becoming unilateral. However, look at how the use of one artist, namely, Storm Thorgerson for many of their albums helped Pink Floyd establish their visual identity. Another band, The Mars Volta recently followed their footsteps. I think also of Tool who worked with Alex Grey on a number of things.

            What’s needed I think is versatility, virtuosity, and heaps of imagination. No small order!

        2. Dalkey’s experimented with different kinds of covers, and I like the new ones very much in principle, in that they’re all striking and have strong connections with one another. That said, I think some are better than others, and a couple of them look a bit too much like one another. Sometimes when I see a new one I think I’ve already seen it, which is the danger in more uniform design. But, overall, this latest batch has been a home run for Dalkey, I think. And people have been talking about the covers, always a good thing.

  2. i like 2. i like how active it is. i like how unbook-cover it is. i like adam being on the cover of his book. i like how aparna’s hand (woman on left) will only be seen on front but then there she is on back. i like the seam where dave is cut in half.

      1. it’s actually not faux, really is an oil painting. but he and i talked about that, that being a thing he does, like david bowie as a different character on all his album covers.

        1. wow – I had no idea that was real – it is great (and genius for a cover) – and the idea of that being a staple of all his covers, even more brilliant. I am sold I think, changing my vote to #2.

  3. I’m torn between 1 and 2 for all the reasons stated above. It’d probably be a very mood thing with me, because sometimes, I think I’d like the DIY, unbook-coverness of 2, but other times, I think the more professional, slick no. 1 would be preferred.

    I think, in my head, if it was releasing on PG, with an already established cover aesthetic, and a very slick, professional aesthetic at that, I’d definitely say 1, but since this is an imprint, perhaps the new, punk-rock PG, the established aesthetic is a bit moot. And, in that regard, I think Joseph’s points have a strong argument. Really, it just depends on the future direction of Awesome Machine, I think.

    So, um. 1 or 2. Sorry for the indecision.

  4. By the way, I think this post (and comments thread) is a great use of a small press blog. Not only is this soliciting some opinion on the book, and getting some presumably useful feedback, it’s also de facto promotion.

  5. I am thrilled to have the feedback. Thanks J.A. And, Adam, I hear what you’re saying on the lost title in #2. If I go with that concept, as JY is pulling for, you’re right that it would require a new type treatment. That image is the most challenging to work with by a longshot. To clarify a point, though, these photos were taken by no amateur; Stephanie Barber is an accomplished filmmaker and an instructor in color theory at MICA.

    I’m pulling for #1.

    Caketrain’s Afterpastures (by Claire Hero) has a great use of a photo: http://www.caketrain.org/afterpastures/

    Thanks a lot you people.

    1. Woah. That Afterpastures photo gave me vertigo. I wasn’t expecting that.

      “you people.”

      Adam, you’re such a racist.

    2. Ah, Stephanie Barber. I know her work a bit. My friend Astria Suparak used to show some of them here and there, as part of her traveling show… I think PORNFILM ended up on a tape Astria made for Miranda July’s JOANIE 4 JACKIE series…

      1. Oh I’m glad you’ve heard of her because I want to send you a copy of her book/DVD that Publishing Genius is currently reprinting.

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